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Remembering Ross Houston, RWB Pianist

On Wednesday, January 12th, Ross Houston, beloved RWB Pianist, passed away. Mr. Houston was with the RWB for more than four decades, during which time he touched the lives of many. The RWB family has set aside this space to share their remembrances. Please check back often as it will continue to be updated as messages pour in.

“It is with shock, disbelief and sadness that we mark the passing of Ross Houston. Ross has been part of the RWB for over four decades, inspiring dancers and audiences alike through the piano. His commitment to music and to the RWB will not be forgotten.”
-André Lewis, RWB Artistic Director

“Ross Houston was a pianist with Royal Winnipeg Ballet for the last 44 years. He was an outstanding, well respected musician capable of playing any kind of repertoire. His rehearsal playing was superb, sensitive to the needs of the dancers and true to intentions of the composers. He had a special ability for playing wonderful ballet classes where his own sense of style and never-ending repertoire was admired by many. He worked with many singers and choirs giving them all a solid musical support. Live music was the most important thing to him. He put his influence on generations of dancers, fellow musicians and singers. We will miss him dearly. To us he was and always will be
Mr. Perfect.”
-Tadeusz Biernacki, RWB Music Director & Conductor

“I have had the great privilege of knowing and working with Ross over the past forty years.  In my opinion, Ross was a great musical talent whose humility concealed his gift. To know him was to know the genius of his art. He could instantly inject a dance class or a performance with an energy and musical sense witnessed only in the greats of the world. The artists past and present of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet will forever be the richer for having worked with him.”
-David Moroni C.M., Founding Director RWB School Professional Division

“How many mornings did I count my blessings for Ross' beautiful music wrapping around me in class like a warm sweater, or tomatoes from his garden on top of the piano (and sometimes Tic Tacs, or Lifesavers) …  I will miss him telling me that I looked like I was 'phoning it in today, dear', or giving me a hard time for leaving class early, because sometimes it felt good just to know that he noticed, whether he was kidding or not. He taught me that family is so much more than who we are born to, and I loved him.”
-Emily Grizzell, RWB Soloist

“You could always count on Ross for a smile, an encouraging word or something particularly witty during our, at times, very stressful rehearsals. He really was a gentle soul and he will be missed greatly.”
-Carrie Broda, RWB Second Soloist

“Ross, or 'Mr. Perfect' as we knew him, made the ballet a special place by doing small to great things; from playing music I would ask him to for fun, such as from "The Lion King" for warm up at barre, to just understanding us in and out of rehearsal by simply being who he is (was). Goodbye Mr. Rossy, you will be missed.”
-Amar Dhaliwal, RWB Second Soloist

“He was one of my first pianists here at RWB 26 years ago. Wow!  Ross was a highly skilled pianist and had a great sense of humor. He will be missed.”
-Johanne Gingras, RWB School Teacher Training Program Director

“Ross had just “that” sense of humour that would throw you into left field before bringing you back to the dance.”
-Ingrid Kottke, RWB Production Stage Manager

“[Ross’s example] forever changed my approach to accompaniment, and to music. I spent the rest of my ballet-accompanying days aspiring to sound like him. He was truly one of a kind, and I’ll never forget him.”
-Jennifer M. Walton, Former RWB School Pianist

“How extraordinarily fortunate were all to have worked and spent time with Ross. He was without a doubt a gifted musician for dance. Countless years with RWB, he truly was a big part of the RWB family.  We will all miss him greatly.”
-Cathy Taylor, Former RWB Ballet Mistress

“I remember Ross as a sweet, gentle man with a smile that warmed our hearts. This is the saddest part of living, losing people who you have such fond memories of. All my memories of the RWB are special and only now after being away from the RWB do I fully understand how special the people and the organization was.”
-Steven Hyde, Former RWB Dancer

“Ross always made classes and rehearsal enjoyable. He would remember the pieces of music that we loved and he would play them in class if he thought we needed a little extra inspiration. He was a gentle, sweet man, a beautiful artist and a dear friend.”
-Kerrie Souster, Former RWB Dancer

“Ross was my very first pianist as a little dancer and will always be remembered for his smile!”
-Tracy Koga, Former RWB Dancer

“We will miss him very much.”
-Johnny Chang, RWB Senior Ballet Master

“Ross was a wonderful, talented musician who shared his love of music with all of us. He was quiet, humble and observant – always able to notice who needed a kind word or a supportive gesture. He is a family member who will be remembered and never replaced.”
-Arlene Minkhorst, RWB School Director

“Ever since I joined the RWB in 1976, Ross was there, playing inspirational class for us, joking with us, and just being his wonderful, generous, unflustered self. When he recently substituted playing for one of the classes I now teach – and what a pleasure that was! He will be dearly remembered and his presence dearly missed!”
-Patti Caplette, Former RWB Dancer & Ballet Mistress

“I was very fortunate that, while on many tours with the Company, my physio area was set up near the rehearsal room and I could listen to Ross play for class as I worked. Not many physios have that pleasure. It truly made me appreciate his talent. I will miss Ross and his music.”
-Sam Steinfeld, RWB Physiotherapist

“When Sheri Cook & I danced together at RWB, Ross lived across the street. Many times he drove us to class on those snow driven days ("rats," Sheri & I would say, “let’s stay home”). … I remember some pretty "great" poker games with Ross (remember those nights you oldies ?) and lots of laughs ! What a sense of humor he had. Picked me up on many a down day.”
-Vikki Pulkkinen, Former RWB Dancer

"Ross will forever be playing our songs in my heart. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by the beauty he brought through his music. For me, he made the "dance" worth dancing. He will be greatly missed by his RWB family."
-Tara Birtwhistle, RWB Principal Dancer

“I met Ross at the Smith Street RWB Building over forty years ago and he was the 1st "piano man" who not only encouraged us as dancers, but as musicians as well. He would patiently listen as I'd play a new song or practice a new showpiece in the studios before class - a rare privilege. He would even share some of his favourite songs with me, some of which I still have, and I'd proudly perform them in the style of 'Ross". His talents and playful spirit always pervaded the rehearsal room and I will always hold onto the fondest memory of Ross, wrapped in a boa playing with abandon and pizzazz! May your music play on!!”
-Brenda Gorlick, Friend and colleague

“I fondly remember entering my first ballet class at the RWB to the beautiful music filling our studio.  Through Miss McKenzie’s teaching and instruction and Mr. Houston’s absolute magical way with the piano, this hard core gymnast, who was only there “because I had to be,” fostered a love for dance that lasted far into my twenties, and to instructing small children, and now my children how beautiful and magical the ballet can be. A wonderful man and talent that will be missed."
-Karen Keene Patrick

“Ross was one of the most natural musicians that I have met. But he was more than that. He was a very warm and personable man. There was always something unspoken about Ross … Thank you, Ross, for sharing your gifts and friendship with me. You have touched my life.”
-Laurie Duncan

“I will forever remember the delightful twinkle in Ross's eye and the winks he shared with me in the studio.  Those winks could mean anything from a simple shared giggle to a vote of confidence and encouragement - and, ever-observant, Ross would know exactly what the occasion called for.  The range of emotion communicated in his winks was an echo of his personality - a rare and wonderful combination of a droll, devilish sense of humour, an enormous, generous heart, and everything in between.  As a dancer, I loved dancing to the music Ross played for us in class and rehearsal.  When I taught company class, I felt nurtured and protected whenever Ross was at the piano.  Ross was a true artist and a loving soul.  His spirit will be greatly missed...”
-CindyMarie Small, RWB Guest Ballet Mistress & Former RWB Dancer

“Knowing Ross was like breathing out and breathing in. His presence was so enveloping, so supportive, so calm and wise. He had the most miraculous way of being the anchor in the stormy dramatics of our dance world and rehearsal days. He shared such artistry and vulnerability as well as an enormous humility in spite of his great wealth of knowledge and expertise. He was a team player.. a true captain, a leader without needing to be the leader and a kinder man you could never meet. He also shared his wicked sense of humour .. and to my great delight .. his lifesavers .. caramel were my faves .. between barre and centre .. opps and sometimes in the middle of barre and through center!!! I shall miss his laughter most of all but I have his essences firmly attached to my heart.”
-Evelyn Hart, Former RWB Dancer

“Louis used to call Ross "knuckles" because he was such a good pool player on tour...we will both miss him dearly, his wonderful sarcasm, his gentle peaceful spirit and so many other things about him.  May he rest in Peace.”
-Tamara Hoffmann and Louis D'Aoust

“I knew Mr. Houston when I was a young girl in Winnipeg. He came to my father’s home from time to time. Usually the visits started with an impromptu recital. The most glorious music filled our home. Mr. Houston was always so kind and gentle. His spirit and his gifts will be sorely missed by many.“
-Cynthia J. McTaggart

“Ross had a way to put things in perspective. God knows how dancers can be dramatic sometimes ... Ross always knew what to say or what to play when you had a bad day, and suddenly things weren't that bad anymore. He was a msn of perspective, and we loved him for it. He will be greatly missed.”
-Richard Dagenais, Former RWB Dancer / Senior Artistic Director for Cirque du Soleil

“As long as I could hear I will remember how great Ross use to make me feel, the glory of dance to his music was like a dream which I wish will never end.”
-Gianni Di Marco

"I first knew Ross when I was 9 years old, playing at the Junior musical Club in Winnipeg. My school friend had a crush on him, and said he looked like a prince when he played the piano. Later we met up again as music students at the U of M, and even though we went in different directions - I switched from music into a BA program, and Ross left and went to work at Eaton's - we kept in touch. While at U, I played for a musical theater production, and was asked by the choreographer, Vi Robertson, if i might be free to play for the RWB school concert at the Playhouse in the spring. I said yes, and the conductor heard me playing in rehearsal and offered me a job with the company. While I was flattered, I decided to finish my studies, and play for the RWB school on weekends to learn more about ballet classes, then start with the company upon graduation. Jean McKenzie was teaching, and she asked me if I had any friends that could play piano too. Of course I thought of Ross, and introduced them, and the rest is history. I will miss Ross - his friendship and his beautiful music - but am so grateful to have had him in my life."
-Barbara Malcolm Riske

“My thanks to Ross, for getting me through many a difficult class with his beautiful and inspiring music!”
-Roger Shim

“Truly Ross was a man who touched one's life and left warm, encouraging and funny memories behind.  His musical talent and knowledge was awesome, easy and inviting.  I had the great pleasure of knowing Ross's wonderful skills as a vocal accompanist as I prepared for vocal exams and the Winnipeg Music Festival.  His perceptions, suggestions and support were invaluable. Life brings change and although I only knew him for a few short months, I will always remember him for his music, his support and his wonderful, kind, generous and witty soul.  May he always be …”
-Shirley Schroeder

“One of the most nerve racking experiences Jean MacKenzie’s aspiring ballerinas went through each year was the R.A.D. exam. But after entering the studio and curtsying to the examiner, how comforting it was to see Ross smile assurance from where he sat by the piano ready to accompany us, just as he did three, four or five times a week during class. Week in and week out, year after year, Ross inspired us with his gifted piano playing. During a class when our beloved Ms. Mackenzie was critical, a wink from Ross kept it in perspective and a compliment from Ms. Mackenzie was made even more special if Ross nodded his affirmation. For me, and no doubt for many, many others, Ross’s talent, humour and steady presence are an integral part of my cherished memories of studying and growing up at the RWB.”
-Leah Chisvin Braeme

“In the early 60’s, I went to the “Coronation Bowling and Billiards” on Tache Ave in Saint-Boniface, looking to shoot a few  games and perhaps make a few bucks. Ross was there. I did not know him, nor did I know about him. We settled on a game. We lagged, and I lost. I broke very carefully. My one and only shot for that game. He ran the table, fifteen blacks and then the colours - 147 points. He would not accept money and he paid for half the game. He was elated. I was humbled. As I got to know him, I found that Ross was a really good guy, funny as hell and quick with a quip. No one at the pool hall ever mentioned his tremendous musical ability, only that he hustled pool. With his passing, I am sure the RWB will have big shoes to fill.”
-Ron Lamontagne

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If you would like to share a memory of Mr. Houston in this space, please email RWB Publicity Manager Kate Hodgert at khodgert@rwb.org


Ross Houston Top Photo David Cooper Bottom Photo Bruce Monk

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